Researchers uncover reasons for decreasing sleep quality as we age

Researchers from the United States have shed light on why people experience more fragmented sleep as they grow older.

In a study of elderly individuals and people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the team showed that neural loss in a particular part of the hypothalamus seems to be linked to a decrease in sleep quality.

These findings may lead to new methods to diminish sleep problems in the elderly and prevent sleep-deprivation-related cognitive decline in people with dementia," says senior author Clifford Saper from the University of Toronto.

As people age, they generally find it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. This problem is particularly pronounced among Alzheimer’s sufferers, whose wakefulness and confusion can lead to night-time wandering.

Elderly woman sleeping in bed

As reported in the journal Brain, Saper and colleagues examined the brains of 45 individuals from the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had worn a wrist-watch actigraphy device for at least a week while they were alive. The device monitors all movements 24 hours a day and provides a good measure of the amount and quality of sleep a person gets. The patients were aged a mean of 89.2 years at the time of death and twelve had Alzheimer’s disease.

Immunohistochemistry and stereology techniques showed that the amount of neurons present in the intermediate nuclea of the hypothalamus was negatively associated with the amount of sleep fragmentation the subjects experienced.

Individuals with the highest proportion of galanin-immunoreactive intermediate nucleus neurons (more than 6,000) experienced less fragmented sleep than those with the lowest proportion (less than 3,000). Individuals who had Alzheimer’s disease were estimated to have around 2900 less of these neurons than those without the condition and among those who did have Alzheimer’s, the degree of sleep fragmentation also seemed to be linked to how many of these neurons were lost.

“A paucity of galanin-immunoreactive intermediate nucleus neurons is accompanied by sleep fragmentation in older adults with and without Alzheimer’s disease,” writes the team.

Saper concludes:

The loss of these neurons may be an important reason why older individuals often face sleep disruptions"


Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Robertson, Sally. (2019, June 20). Researchers uncover reasons for decreasing sleep quality as we age. News-Medical. Retrieved on November 14, 2019 from

  • MLA

    Robertson, Sally. "Researchers uncover reasons for decreasing sleep quality as we age". News-Medical. 14 November 2019. <>.

  • Chicago

    Robertson, Sally. "Researchers uncover reasons for decreasing sleep quality as we age". News-Medical. (accessed November 14, 2019).

  • Harvard

    Robertson, Sally. 2019. Researchers uncover reasons for decreasing sleep quality as we age. News-Medical, viewed 14 November 2019,


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
Post a new comment
You might also like... ×
Shortened sleep is linked with low bone mineral density, osteoporosis